Over the last few years, meningitis outbreaks amongst gay men have started to become more prevalent. Los Angeles is just the latest city to see the potentially deadly disease working its way through the community. Of the 15 cases in L.A. County so far in 2016, 8 of those affected were gay men. There were only 12 cases in L.A. County in all of 2015. While 15 infections might not seem worthy of the outbreak label, officials are concerned.
The pattern of infection within L.A.’s gay community mirrors similar outbreaks in cities like New York and Chicago. In those cities, gay men were disproportionately affected by the disease. However, to date, there is no known medical reason for the disease’s spread amongst gay men. It’s happening and no one really knows why.
The California Department of Public Health is officially urging gay and bisexual men to get meningitis vaccinations. They’ve also warned that HIV positive men have an increased risk of contracting the disease.
Meningitis is a rare infection that’s caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitides. It enters the blood stream and then develops into the full blown disease. The disease spreads through close exposure like sneezing, coughing, or direct contact with saliva. Symptoms often include vomiting, fever, severe headaches, confusion, rashes, muscle pains, and stiff neck. They begin within a few days of infection.
The strain that’s been reported amongst gay men in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago is serogroup C meningococcal disease. According to the Los Angeles Times, one man died from the infection so far this year in Orange County.
Aside from getting vaccinated, there are simple ways to avoid contracting the disease. According to everydayhealth.com, it’s important to avoid sharing personal items in which saliva secretions lurk. These include drinking glasses, water bottles, straws, silverware, toothbrushes, lipsticks, glosses, and cigarettes. Do your best to avoid close contact with people who you know are infected. Wash your hands thoroughly. And ingest foods like fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins that help boost your immune system.
The L.A. County health department is providing free vaccinations for patients regardless of their health insurance status. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and LA LGBT Center are also pitching in to offer free vaccines. If you live in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas, you’re strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. If you live outside of LA but you’re still concerned about your risk of exposure, head to vaccines.gov to see what options are available to you.